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Alaska Rep. Don Young, college professor continue to trade jabs

Posted: November 27, 2011 - 12:10am

ANCHORAGE — The feud between Alaska Congressman Don Young and prominent historian Douglas Brinkley that started at a House committee hearing last Friday has continued, with Brinkley calling Young a bully and a “low-grade Joseph McCarthy.”

Young, for his part, maintains that Brinkley is just a publicity hound who is trying to boost sales for his books.

Video of the nasty exchange between Brinkley and Young during last Friday’s committee hearing over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge went viral on the Internet. It was featured Tuesday on NBC’s “Nightly News” broadcast, with anchor Brian Williams dubbing it “moment of the week on Capitol Hill. ... It goes very haywire very quickly.”

The exchange was stunning, with a furious Young saying Brinkley’s testimony was “garbage” and that the Rice University professor needed to “just be quiet.” Brinkley told Young “I pay your salary!” and mocked the congressman’s education.

A staffer sitting behind Young fiddling with her phone bolted up straight in wide-eyed astonishment at the verbal smack-down.

Brinkley did not respond to an interview request from the Daily News this week. But he’s continued to poke Young in Lower 48 media. He told a television station in Houston, where Rice is located, that his students applauded when he walked into class.

“I have received now hundreds and hundreds of emails from people all over, I’ve not received one negative one,” he said. “I’ve had my entire Rice University and including Texas conservatives cheering me on for standing up to his bullying tactics.”

A Minneapolis online news site quoted Brinkley this week calling Young a “menacing blowhard” and a “low-grade Joseph McCarthy,” referring to the infamous 1950s politician who bullied congressional witnesses and claimed widespread communist subversion of American public life.

Young turned down an interview request from the Daily News this week, but his spokesman said the blowup at last Friday’s hearing was a publicity ploy by Brinkley.

“People will want to make this into more than what it really is: an attempt by an author to create a stir and sell books,” said Young spokesman Luke Miller.

The acrimony began after Brinkley, who published a book earlier this year about the early conservation movement in Alaska, testified to the House Natural Resources Committee that Congress should urge the president to make the ANWR coastal plain a national monument. Brinkley and others hope monument status would prevent oil drilling. Young maintains that monument status for ANWR would violate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Young, a Republican, has fought for four decades to open the area to drilling. He told Brinkley his testimony was “garbage” and mistakenly called him “Dr. Rice.” That prompted Brinkley to interrupt with a correction.

“It’s Dr. Brinkley; Rice is a university. I know you went to Yuba College and couldn’t graduate,” Brinkley said.

Young, who actually did earn his associate degree at Yuba Community College, according to his congressional biography, and then later obtained a bachelor’s degree from Chico State, was apoplectic at the well-known historian.

“I’ll call you anything I want to call you when you sit in that chair. You just be quiet. You be quiet!” Young said.

Brinkley wasn’t interested in being told by Young to shut up. “You don’t own me. I pay your salary,” Brinkley said.

The two also sparred over Young coming and going from the hearing. Young had come into the hearing late and said he was “really [filtered word]” that Brinkley mentioned his absence, explaining he had been voting. When Young later left the hearing before it was over, Brinkley told the committee Young “doesn’t stay, blows smoke and then leaves.”

Young spokesman Miller said this week that Brinkley was given his full time to testify and then repeatedly interrupted and was disrespectful. Miller said that Young has received positive feedback following the blowup with Brinkley.

“While reaction from the Lower 48 has been mixed, much of the feedback our office is receiving from Alaskans has been supportive of Congressman Young. In fact, many have simply been saying ‘Go get ‘em Don,’” he said.

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